With a record number of COVID-19 cases, a festering outbreak at Hawaii’s largest jail and clusters emerging all across Oahu, Gov. David Ige said Thursday that he’s looking at reestablishing a stay-at-home order and delaying the relaunch of trans-Pacific tourism through a pre-travel testing program, set to begin Sept. 1.
“I know that going backwards will cause further harm to our economy, but we have always said that the health and safety of our community will be our highest priority,” Ige said in a news conference.
Ige said he wants to look at a few more days of data before making a decision about whether to push back the pre-travel testing program.
He said he’s hoping restrictions on interisland travel and Oahu bans on gatherings at parks, beaches and trails will have an impact on the numbers.
So far it’s not looking good. The state Department of Health on Thursday reported a single-day record of 355 new COVID-19 cases, completing a 15-day run of triple-digit numbers, with most of the cases found on Oahu.
What’s more, officials announced two more coronavirus-related fatalities. The deaths of two Oahu men, both over 60 years old, bring the statewide death toll since the start of the outbreak to 40.
Ige, responding last month to an uptick in cases along with a huge increase in some mainland states, already delayed by a month the proposed program to allow passengers with approved negative COVID-19 tests taken within 72 hours of their trip to Hawaii to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state passengers.
With an even larger surge over the first two weeks of August, avoiding another delay doesn’t look promising.
“If things do not get better, we will have no choice but to look at more restrictions,” Ige said.
But this time the stay-at-home order may be limited to Oahu. Ige said he talked with the neighbor island mayors, who expressed a desire keep things status quo in their counties considering how few cases they are seeing.
Ige said health officials are finding numerous clusters of the disease all over Oahu, with COVID-19 not just accelerated by large groups outdoors but by small interactions at the workplace.
“We are headed in the wrong direction,” the governor declared. “I know many of you have sacrificed much over the months of this COVID-19 pandemic, but I need to ask you to sacrifice even more.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Hawaii was doing great fighting off the pandemic until the economy started opening up around July 4. That’s when the numbers began steadily increasing through July. Overall cases more than doubled during the month, he said.
But if July was bad with 1,205 cases, August has been terrible with more than 2,000 cases halfway through the month.
“I know that hearing the number of 355 cases was a bit of a shock to people,” Green said. “It’s scary. It’s human to be scared, and it’s also something we are preparing for very passionately to make sure we save lives.”
Green said Oahu hospitals are transferring patients and expanding intensive care unit capacity to accommodate the growing number of COVID-19 positive patients.
“If we do need additional restrictions, if we do have to go to a stay-at-home order, it will be to save lives and ultimately stop the virus sooner rather than later, he said.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to this week’s case totals is Oahu Community Correctional Center, where dozens of inmates and guards have tested positive.
The total count at the jail now stands at 105 and likely will rise with the results of further mass testing, said Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.
Another cluster of 20 cases at the Institute for Human Services Sumner Men’s Shelter in Iwilei is still under investigation. State officials said the shelter is being temporarily transformed into a quarantine and isolation facility.
The shelter will be temporarily closed to new admissions for reorganization and cleaning as individuals in isolation and quarantine complete their stay there for at least 14 days, officials said.
Also at the news briefing, Deputy Health Director Danette Wong Tomiyasu said about 100 contact tracing staffers are working on Oahu this week.
Under new Disease Investigation Branch Chief Dr. Emily Roberson, even more staff will be deployed, she said.
Dr. Sarah Park had previously led the contact tracing program.
“As you can imagine, we are all stretched,” Tomiyasu said. “Dr. Park is still a part of DOH and will focus on other aspects of the pandemic. There is more than enough to do. We are fortunate that Dr. Park was able to recruit Dr. Roberson to fill this important role.”
Of the 153,617 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories in Hawaii since the start of the outbreak, about 2.8% have been positive.
Officials counted 3,384 new test results in Thursday’s tally, with the 355 positive results representing 10.5% of the total, the highest one-day positivity rate so far for Hawaii.